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15 Comments

    1. That’s true, but that feature was essentially decided before the competition even started. I’m not necessarily defending the decision, but without a radical rewrite of existing rules, or a substantial investment by a vendor of a different option, light water reactors seem to be the only nuclear technology that can be licensed in the US within the next decade.

    2. Not quite for the entire conference. Transatomic Power apparently was the only non-LWR folks at the meeting to have a presentation; it did one on their MSR which appears to be interesting:
      http://www.nei.org/CorporateSite/media/filefolder/Conferences/SMR/DewanSMR2014.pdf

      Transatomic has a more detailed white paper on their website:
      http://transatomicpower.com/white_papers/TAP_White_Paper.pdf

      I’d love to see the folks involved with the NGNP present at a meeting like this as to what’s going on in their neck of the woods. It seems to be quiet up in Idaho.

      1. @Dave:

        Dr. Dewan spoke as part of the session titled “Closing the Fuel Cycle: The Strategic Role for Advanced Reactors.” She was not the only non-LWR presenter; Eric Loewen of GE-Hitachi also spoke about the PRISM reactor as part of that session. Jessica Lovering of the Breakthrough Institute also discussed the attractiveness of including discussions about new and improved reactors as part of the conversation about nuclear energy as a major tool in addressing energy and climate challenges.

        This part of the forum was quite interesting because it reinforced what I believe is a strategic shift for NEI. As described in the Atomic Insights post about NEI’s “Future of Energy” campaign, the organization has begun more openly supporting discussions about changes in the fuel cycle in relation to addressing the issue of used nuclear fuel.

        There appears to be more appetite today for talking about the material as a future resource instead of allowing it to always be characterized as a burden on future generations that we need to solve now before we can develop and deploy the modern reactor technology that is available and licensable for construction without significant regulatory development.

        1. I guess I’m guilty of speaking too soon, judging titles of presentations without reading all of them completely Thanks for pointing out my error.

        2. It certainly would be nice to burn used fuel somewhere to reduce its radioactivity and get the full energy content out of it. The PRISM and the Transatomic concepts might help this in time.

          I know that the CANDU “can do” DUPIC, but don’t think it deeply burns the used fuel in order to do so. However, it is available now for licensing and perhaps it could be used to burn up more than it is presently advertised to do. Any insights as to the CANDU’s capabilities – if any – to thoroughly burn spent fuel?

          1. I’ve found papers with numbers such as an additional burnup of 18,000 MW-d/MTHM for DUPIC.  This is only a fraction of the original burnup in an LWR, but considerably greater than normal CANDU fuel figures.

  1. I think the current regulatory paradigm (I hate that word) with a relatively large staff exhaustively evaluating a particular design would preclude a “let the market decide” approach.

    On the bright side, SMR components may be more amenable to additive manufacturing, 3-D printing technologies for realizing cost reductions. Currently these processes have only been demonstrated with a limited number of materials such as resins and some powdered metals. Production of nuclear grade components by such processes would be an interesting research project.

  2. Overall this is a very well done snap shot of the current situation, including Fertel’s comments and assessment. I still see it boiling down to a catch 22, and I don’t mind assigning the blame (from my comfortable seat at my computer). The NRC can’t approve a new design without an application. A vendor can’t submit an application for NRC certification without completing the design engineering. Just how far does anybody realistically think these vendors can go on the engineering to complete the design on their own nickle? The problem rests right on the shoulders of the nuke utilities; nobody will commit to buy one. Yet they all bemoan constantly the upgrades new information (Fukushima) is forcing on the old designs, bemoan old designs are not competitive in some markets, and will soon be looking at license extensions for the old designs beyond 60 years. Hey, get a clue, your old designs days are numbered. You better be thinking forward if you are committed to nuke power. You better be working in parallel with running your old designs to get their replacements certified and built. Start ordering SMRs. The other problems are fluff, the USA can engineer an SMR, NRC can certify the design in a timely manner with the right pressure (indicated by Commissioner Apostolakis). The catch 22 will not be broken until utilities commit to buying new designs. Including the AP1000. mjd.

  3. “… but leaving the decision to ‘the market’ eliminates many of those benefits for a technology with the kind of long lead times associated with nuclear technology.”

    For reasons I discussed elsewhere here at Atomic Insights, neither a purely free market (which historically has never existed in any country at any time) nor socialism (which has always failed everywhere it has been tried), is the solution. A free market restrained by sensible government regulation and the moral voice if the Church is the solution. That’s the three legged stool. Remove one leg and the stool falls over. See Pope Leo XIII’s Quod Apostoloci Muneris and Rerum Novarum. The lessons of the 19th century apply even – especially – in our technological 21st. Nuclear will be successful when we have sensible balance.

  4. Who is the market for these?

    I can envision a remote mining operation that needs electricity and / or steam being a customer. It would be mining a rare and precious commodity to justify the enormous capital expense.

    A lot of coal plants are closing. This would appear to be a natural opportunity. A lot of the existing electrical infrastructure could be saved. Electric utilities are the industry in this country with the highest capital investment. However, even if these things were ready for market I doubt the regulator would allow this.

    The economy of scale allows big nukes to be built since they can pay for all the items required for regulation. How could small nukes be economical unless there were multiple nukes at one site? At that point, you are better off with the big units.

    Are the rules going to change to allow these to economically work?

    1. Are the rules going to change to allow these to economically work?

      That is the big question. The NRC recognizes that the SMRs and non-LWR plants perhaps need a different set of rules. The NRC has identified several areas that need to be looked at. See link here:
      http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/advanced.html

      And here:
      http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/advanced/policy-issues.html

      From the second link, you can see the list (right now) is rather long, and could well become longer. Whether the NRC has the staffing and motivation necessary to address and resolve these issues, is anyone’s guess.

  5. I’m not following some of what you say. You said “I doubt the regulator would allow this”; who’s the regulator in this case? If the unit is ready for market the NRC has approved the design. And it is well established that it is easier with the NRC to add units to an approved site than start from scratch on a new site. Do you mean state utility commissions? Virtually all of the Southern states in the USA, currently with a nuke, have adopted the “pay if forward” rate structure for new nukes; I think they like nukes. But this can get complicated by state governments passing “renewable” goals. As far as who is the market, you don’t see a utility with an aging 800 Mwe nuke unit to be a market for four SMRs (multiple on one site)? The problem is nobody knows the cost of an SMR yet. And that cost will be dependent on total units sold. Right now the USA market has shown the only new design anyone is even willing to chance is the AP1000, so all market eyes are on those units. And that cost answer won’t be available until one hits 100% power with all testing passed. Your economy of scale argument is only true once the nuke is bought and paid for. History shows virtually every nuke brought on-line since late ’70s, is 2-3 times estimate on cost and several years late. That’s where economy of scale breaks down. I think SMRs can break that trend. But it won’t happen without commitments now.

    1. Virtually all of the Southern states in the USA, currently with a nuke, have adopted the “pay if forward” rate structure for new nukes; I think they like nukes.

      @mjd

      I’d say nuclear looks pretty “beloved” in northern states as well?

      http://investigativereportingworkshop.org/investigations/nuclear-energy-lobbying-push/story/nuclear-lobbying-turns-states/

      Southeastern States still have monopoly providers for production and distribution of electricity in state-regulated service areas. I’d say the difference is that in the Southeast, they are still fond of anti-consumer laws (such as CWIP), and nuclear is a non-competitive option for getting a good chunk of change from the ratepayer (and paying none of the premium for risk or capital). And when you have cost-overruns, as you likely will, it’s consumers who get stuck with the tab (e.g., Levy County or Vogtle). If nuclear can’t compete in any other way (and with energy technologies that can be built in 1 – 2 years, and fully cover capital costs in 10 to 20), I don’t see where this option expands much in the future. Unless you have captive ratepayers as they appear to have in the Southeast. Liking nuclear has little of anything to do with it.

      1. @EL. You make some valid observations. My point was the state rate commission rules are still controlled by the individual state legislatures. Last i checked a couple years ago, virtually every southern state with a nuke had the pay it forward rate structure for new nukes. Not so up north. Things may be changing, I’ll read your link later, thanks. There is recent press in FL that things may be changing there too, but most of it just looks like finger pointing right now. Most of what I read about Levy Co indicated a large part of the high estimated cost was due to new infrastructure for new interconnections to hook it to the grid. Makes one wonder; that requires a lot of real estate transactions.

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